Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Shirley Williams’

The Limehouse Declaration Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th January, 2018

THLDs Limehouse DinnerLast night a lively crowd of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats and friends gathered at The Narrow in Limehouse for a dinner to celebrate the Limehouse Declaration, which was really the launching pad for the short-lived SDP (Social Democratic Party). Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams were the “Gang of Four” who led the breakaway from Labour, caused mainly because of the Labour Party’s drift to the left under Michael Foot’s leadership, its espousal of unilateral nuclear disarmament and a policy of withdrawing from the European Union. The Declaration was issued to the media from David Owen’s house further along Narrow Street from the gastropub where we gathered. Lord Owen was not present at our dinner (he opposed merger between the SDP and the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats and now sits as a Crosssbech — i.e. Independent — peer, though rarely attends debates). But the other David, Lord Steel, was a keynote speaker at our dinner and was keen to point out that despite the rather cruel caricature of him on the popular TV programme, Spitting Image, tiny and in David Owen’s top pocket, the two men got on well together most of the time — especially if Dr Owen’s wife, Deborah, was present. Lord Steel drew inevitable comparisons between the state of the Labour Party today under Jeremy Corbyn, underwriting the Conservatives’ Brexit, to the situation 37 years ago. But it was the other guest speaker, Baroness (Sally) Hamwee who focussed her remarks on the future. Brexit is dominating parliamentary business at present and with only two days scheduled for the next Lord’s Debate on the European Union Withdrawal Bill, peers will have to be concise, though many are highly qualified to deconstruct the whole thing in great detail — far more qualified than most of Theresa May’s Cabinet, indeed. As Sally was talking I was reminded that in the European Parliament, MEPs are limited to one minute in Plenary speeches, which is a good recipe for conciseness — a bit like a tweet, as I said to her, not that she uses twitter herself. Like many local parties, Tower Hamlets Borough Liberal Democrats has benefitted from a great surge in membership since the EU Referendum and with nearly 30,000 citizens of the other EU member states resident in the borough, will be particularly reaching out to them in the run-up to May’s London local elections.

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The Limehouse Declaration Anniversary Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd January, 2016

Vince Cable at Limehouse dinnerThirty-five years ago, Labour’s “Gang of Four” — Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rogers — met at Dr Owen’s home in Narrow Street, Limehouse, where they signed the Limehouse Declaration, which would soon lead to the formation of the Social Democrat Party, the SDP. Last night, just a few doors down the road from Dr Owen’s House, Liberal Democrats gathered to celebrate that anniversary and to give the City and London East GLA campaign a hefty boost. Though none of the three surviving Gang of Four was present, there was a stellar line-up of speakers, starting with Vince Cable, who had started his political life as a Labour councillor in Glasgow before joining the SDP and eventually getting elected as Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham. He noted the parallels between the situation in the Labour Party in 1981 and that today under the respective leaderships of Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn, and said that many moderate Labour MPs now are running round like headless chickens, alarmed by the way things have developed within the party but unable to decide what to do about it. Moreover, in 2016 the dissidents lack figures of the gravitas of the Gang of Four who could be capable of organising a break-away. The fate of the SDP under Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system was also a dire warning. As Lord (Dick) Newby reminded us in his speech last night, although the SDP-Liberal Alliance polled 25.4% of the vote, compared with Labour’s 27.6%, the Alliance only bagged 23 parliamentary seats as opposed to Labour’s 209. Only five of the SDP MPs who had defected from Labour hung on to their seats and the party’s only gain was Charles Kennedy.

SDP logoTom Brake — London’s sole-surviving Liberal Democrat MP — warned that we must not assume that the Party will just bounce back in 2020 and that it is vital that we consolidate our hold on the eight seats we still have, as well as building in the targets. The compere for the evening, Dr Mark Pack, gave his own thoughtful commentary on the rise and fall of the SDP as well as providing some colourful memorabilia, which did indeed bring back memories among those of us old enough to remember the heady days of 1982, when the Alliance was leading in the opinion polls, only to have our hopes dashed on the rocks of the Falklands War, which saved Mrs Thatcher’s political skin. Interestingly, many of the guests at the Limehouse Declaration anniversary dinner were too young to have such memories, including the GLA constituency candidate Elaine Bagshaw who rounded off the evening and highlighted the remarkable rise in membership and activities in the local parties of Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking & Dagenham.

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David Steel’s Golden Orpington Dinner

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th March, 2015

Each year the National Liberal Club in Westminster hosts a fundraising dinner for Liberal Democrat by-elections, named after one of the most famous of all: Orpington, seized from the Conservatives by the then Eric Lubbock in 1962. But last night’s over-subscribed David SteelOrpington dinner had a special slant as it marked the 50th anniversary of David Steel’s victory at a by-election in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. Steel went on to become Leader of the Liberal Party, a presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament and an active member of the House of Lords. But in the tributes to him in speeches from such luminaries as (Baroness) Shirley Williams and (Lord) Jim Wallace, it was David’s internationalism that was highlighted, including his role in the anti-apartheid struggle. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg used the opportunity to make the most political speech of all, rallying support for the current general election campaign, while stressing the need for Liberalism in a worryingly illiberal world. When David Steel first told the then Liberal Party to “prepare for government” he was much mocked, but Nick was able to say realistically last night “prepare for government — again!”. But for many at the dinner, the most stirring quotation was from the late Alan Paton’s classic South African novel Cry, the Beloved Country: “By Liberalism, I don;t mean the creed of any country. I mean a generosity of spirit, a tolerance of others, an attempt to comprehend otherness, a commitment to the rule of law, a high ideal of the dignity and worth of man, a repugnance of authoritarianism and a love of freedom.”

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The Sheffield LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th March, 2011

The Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference this year was on Nick Clegg’s home territory of Sheffield, which was partly why there was such tight security — the so-called ring of steel — round the City Hall, to fend off protestors who accuse him of ‘selling out’ to the Conservatives. Actually, there were nowhere near the expected number of demonstrators, even if some were the predictably nasty Trots with their unsubtle chants of ‘Scum! Scum! Scum!’ and even ‘Nazis!’ Others were much more reasonable, including a number of students understandably aggrieved that the LibDem policy against university tuition fees fell by the wayside during the course of the Coalition Agreement negotiations. One small group, bizarrely, were Libyans praising Muammar Gaddafi. Party President Tim Farron, who was omnipresent, fuelling press speculation that he already has his eyes on the leadership, insisted the LibDem policy on this hasn’t changed, but I don’t think the electorate would put much credence in such a pledge second time round. As several speakers in this morning’s excellent debate on party’s principles pointed out, we must avoid such ‘train crashes’ as the tuition fees disaster in the future. The mood was distinctly upbeat, nonetheless, even before Nick Clegg’s speech. Government Ministers and party managers might be unhappy about the conference’s rejection of the government’s planned NHS reforms, but most rank-and-file members were not. Shirley Williams and Evan Harris were amongst those leading the charge on that issue and the outcome certainly makes the statement that the LibDems have retained their distinct identity more credible. My own activities this time were limited to the fringe, outlining some of the work I have been doing with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in eastern Europe and the Arab world at a meeting organised by LDEG (Liberal Democrat European Group) and speaking briefly from the audience at a LDFP (Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine) discussion on the question ‘Should we speak to Hamas?’  O’ll be filing a piece on the Bankers’ Bonuses emergency motion for the next issue of Liberal Democrat News

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The LibDems’ Secret Bestseller

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd September, 2009

Paddy AshdownShirley WilliamsWhat should have been the (free) bestseller event of the Bournemouth Liberal Democrat conference fringe this afternoon attracted just three dozen blessed souls instead of the three hundred the room could have accommodated, because someone forgot/failed to put the event into the conference directory. Whoops. The party’s leader in the House of Lords, Tom McNally, chaired a panel of the LibDems’ three top-selling authors, Paddy Ashdown, Vince Cable and Shirley Williams. Undeterred by rows of empty seats, great troopers that they are, they put on a bravura performance, providing tempting tasters of their tomes, their lives and the world (including one or two anecdotes thought not quite appropriate to put into print).

Vince CableIt was all hugely enjoyable and a good few books were sold. But how sad that what should have been a tremendous event was to a certain extent a damp squib.

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Ashdown’s Law

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th June, 2009

Paddy Ashdown 1Sweltering temperatures did not deter the expectant crowd that attended the second Tim Garden memorial lecture, delivered this evening at Chatham House by Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, following wine and twiglets in the RIIA’s St James’s town house. The basement lecture hall itself — though windowless — is actually one of the few places in the capital that has functioning air-conditioning, so those who had survived the reception were given a chance to recover and be entertained at the same time. Paddy was on fine form, declaring that three factors have fundamentally altered the world we live in today: (1) the pattern of world power has shifted, from a monopolar, US-dominated reality to a multipolar situation in which new superpowers such as China, India and Brazil are rightly asserting their importance; (2) there has been a horizontal shift of power away from nation states and their governments to non-state actors, NGOs, communities and individuals; and (3) globalisation means everything connects with everything else. He also propounded an Ashdown’s Law: that one can only achieve results if you work with other people. None of this may sound very profound, perhaps, but he expressed it beautifully and the gist was all very sound.

However, Baroness (Shirley) Williams stumped Paddy with a two-pronged question — the latter part about global elites — during the question time, prompting him to suggest that she should be invited to give the Tim Garden lecture next year. Liberal International British Group, which sponsors the event, could certainly do worse, though there is no reason now that the event seems to have become an instant institution why LIBG shouldn’t look abroad for future speakers as well.

Link: www.libg.org.uk  and www.chathamhouse.org.uk

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Remembering the Lib-Lab Pact

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th July, 2008

The Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-1978 got an almost uniformly bad press at the time and the short-term electoral consequences for the Liberal Party were pretty dire. During the 18 months or so of the pact’s existence, the Liberal vote plummeted in local elections and parliamentary by-elections, as if in protest at David Steel’s baker’s dozen of MPs keeping Jim Callaghan’s government in power. Coalition politics might have been the norm on the continent for a long time, but the British public, it would appear, weren’t ready for it. Some Liberal Party members were pretty peeved too, not least because David failed to win in return the concession from the government to have a PR system for elections to the first directly-elected European Parliament in 1979. Had Jim Callaghan not wobbled, and gone for an election in the autumn of 1978, then things might have been different, of course. But he played cautious and the following May Mrs Thatcher swept into power. The rest, as they say, is history.

Earlier this evening, at a meeting of the Liberal Democrat History Group in the National Liberal Club, the now ennobled David Steel and his colleagues in the House of Lords, Tom McNally (30 years ago, the Head of Callaghan’s Political Office in 10 Downing Street, but now Leader of the LibDems in the House of Lords) and Geoff Tordoff (Chairman of the Liberal Party at the time) joined psephologist (and the other day winner of a council by-election in Canterbury) Michael Steed recalling the Lib-Lab Agreement (as it was more properly termed). With hindsight, the episode can maybe be viewed more sympathetically and it was probably a step in the direction of the ‘reliagnment of British politics’ that David Steel would try a few years later with the SDP’s Gang of Four, Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers. They did not break the mould of British politics then, as they had hoped (partly because of the Falklands War). But the two-party political system that dominated so much of the 20th century was over-turned.

Link: www.liberalhistory.org.uk

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